THE CULTURE OF ABU DHABI

In a post last week I talked about our visit to ADIHEX and touched on some of the traditions of the UAE, including hunting and equestrian sports, so I thought that this week I should cover some of the current cultural developments.

These developments are centered on Saadiyat Island (“happiness island”), a large island just a few hundred meters off the coast of the capital. The Island is currently undergoing a huge development program which includes housing, retail, hospitality and education projects (including a branch of New York University), but one of the major schemes is the cultural district. The district forms part of Abu Dhabi's plan to become a major cultural hub for the region, attracting huge numbers of cultural tourists as it strives to diversify its economy and reduce its reliance on oil revenues.

The cultural district, shown in the artist's impression below, will be home to a number of iconic museums. The first of these is the Louvre, Abu Dhabi, which is the dome shaped building just to the right of the middle in the picture, and is due to open in 2015. The Louvre will be the first universal museum in the Arab world, housing exhibits from societies and cultures all over the world.

saadiyat-island_1_1

I drove past the site the other day (on the motorway so I couldn't stop to take a photograph) and it is really taking shape now, with the dome clearly visible (actually there was an article in the paper today saying it is finished). The opening date must be getting closer because they recently unveiled the logo for the museum (see below), which – it has to be said – left many people distinctly underwhelmed.

LouvreLogo

Second to open, in 2016, will be the Zayed National Museum, which will tell the story of the United Arab Emirates through the life of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, father of the nation. You can see the Zayed museum in the middle of the buildings in the picture, it is (I think) the two buildings which rise above the surrounding buildings.

Next, hopefully opening in 2017, will be the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the strange looking building sticking out into the water at the left of the picture. When I say “strange” I should probably say “contemporary” as that is the kind of art that the museum will be focused on. And the final building shown in the picture (looking a little like a spaceship in my opinion) is the Performing Arts Center.

The entire scheme has its cynics. “Can we really bring culture to camel riders and carpet sellers?”, a well know academic in France asked when the Louvre was first announced (source), but regardless of this cynicism the projects are moving forward slowly but surely.

Another source of controversy is the alleged conditions faced by the thousands of migrant workers working on the various projects. There have been a number of recent articles about the conditions, the most recent I have seen was in Vice magazine. I'm not going to comment on whether I think these articles are fair or not, other to report that the Government vehemently denies the allegations.

Who knows whether we'll still be here by the time all of the museums are open (not that we are planning on going anywhere), but at the very least I am looking forward to visiting the Louvre when it opens next year.

For the “Slaves of Happiness Island” article in Vice (which includes some powerful drawings) see here.

For a recent article in the Daily Mail that has similar material to this post see here.

For more information about the plans for Saadiyat Island visit this website.

 

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